Monthly Archives: September 2014

Five Tuscan Hill Towns Too Beautiful To Be Believed


Good evening, everyone! This week’s post is all about a handful of Tuscan hill towns that are way too gorgeous for their own good. Since I’ve already written about Siena and Cinque Terre they will not be included in this list, but just remember that I still carry a torch in my heart for each of them. And to be honest, they’re well-known enough on their own. If you’re staying in Florence for more than a few days, I highly recommend making a day trip out to one or two of these towns, especially since the regional trains are so ridiculously cheap (we’re talking 7-10 euros depending on the destination). I do want to make it clear that there isn’t “much” to do in any of these towns, so if you’re the kind of person who absolutely must have every moment taken up with activity then you should give them a pass. If you’re a born wanderer like me,  these towns will resonate in your soul long after you’ve left.

1. Cortona

I haven’t been to Cortona in three years, but it was one of my favorite parts about my second trip to Tuscany. I don’t even remember where I first heard its name, but it immediately caught my attention because it sounds like a destination in a pirate-themed movie or a video game. Say it with me: Uncharted 5, the Treasure of Cortona. Copyright Kelsey Clifton. Anyway, to get to Cortona you travel by train, and then you have to take a bus to the town because it’s at the top of a large hill. I mean, walk it if you want, but the bus is only a few euros. If I remember correctly, the correct bus stop is out of the station and to the left, but use your brain and look around. Better yet, if a bus does come, just point to the town up high and ask, “Cortona?” Add in a smile and you’ll be irresistible.

Once you get off the bus, immediately run over to the walls and check out that incredible view. Takes your breath away, right? I was drawn equally to the view and the steep, winding streets full of discoveries. Oh, and the nutella and orange gelato; I was also definitely drawn to that. There’s a central piazza with a clock tower and a church, and on that particular day I witnessed the tail-end of a Scottish wedding. I had no plan and was in no hurry, so I spent the next few hours pleasantly absorbing the beauty around me.


2. San Gimignano

Pronounced “jim-ih-nya-noh,” the Town of Fourteen Towers is a well-known sight in Tuscany. The towers were originally created as a way for the wealthy families in town to one-up each other; at one time there were 72 of them, each taller than the one before until the town council put an end to their shenanigans. Just over a dozen remain, but they’re incredibly well-preserved and I believe that you can go inside a few. I was there on a tour, so unfortunately I didn’t have enough free time to wander and wait in line. We came in on a tour bus, but a bit of research revealed that you need to go to Siena first and then take a bus to San Gimignano. More information (actually a whole frickin’ lot of information) can be found at There’s also an amazing free app for iPhones and Androids.

San Gimignano’s main square is the gorgeous Piazza della Cisterna, which centers around the well that used to be the town’s primary water source. It’s surrounded by buildings from a variety of periods, including one that houses the world gelato champions from 2006-2009. If they’re still around, you should definitely stop in for a scoop or three. Or four, no one’s judging. My activity in the town was limited that day by time and the rain pouring down on us, but it certainly didn’t stop me altogether. The biggest lesson I learned that day is that sometimes life is going to rain on you, and when it does you have two choices: you can either huddle under a shelter with everyone else, or you can go eat gelato in the rain. Guess which one I chose? And no, you don’t get a prize for guessing right, because come on. Gelato.


3. Lucca

I missed Lucca on my first two trips to Tuscany, but I got to visit back in June and it’s absolutely delightful. While still considered a hill town, it was the flattest of any of the ones that I visited and therefore easy on the legs. It’s a short train ride from Florence to Lucca, and once you exit the station just keep heading straight until you see the almost perfectly intact medieval walls. One of my favorite activities was exploring these walls in depth; there are so many great old nooks and crannies to discover, and the combination of old stone and greenery made for a fun time. The buildings inside the old town are just as lovely, and I recommend stopping by Chiesa di San Michele in the piazza that shares its name. Out of all the places on this list, Lucca might have been my objective favorite (objective because other towns hold certain memories that give them unfair advantages).

Another thing that you absolutely have to do is go to the top of Torre Guinigi. It’s this amazing tower with a rooftop grove of olive trees and incredible views of the town. It’s a fairly long climb up to the top, but so very, very worth it! For the full impact, keep your eyes down until you reach the railing. From the roof you’ll have an unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside as well as Lucca itself.


4. Arezzo

If you arrive in Arezzo by train, you can exit the station and walk straight ahead to make it into the main part of town, or take an immediate right on Via Roma once you reach the equilateral green space (Piazza Monaco) if you’d like to swing by the Roman Amphitheater. When I visited, there were several modern art displays around town, including white figures climbing the walls and mannequins with umbrellas hanging from cords. While the entire city is gorgeous, the diva of Arezzo would have to be Piazza Grande—it’s one of the loveliest medieval squares that I’ve ever seen. The steps of Chiesa S. Maria della Pieve create a grand stage from which to observe the colorful piazza and its beautiful residents.

Situated behind Arezzo’s Duomo is my favorite part of the city: il “Prato,” the gardens beneath the Medici Fortress. This incredible green space is a fantastic step back from streets and buildings, and it has three distinct styles within the same area. An open, well-maintained middle lawn gives plenty of room for games and picnics; the lower end is romantic with its windswept pines and views of the Tuscan countryside; and the end closest to the Medici Fortress is like a traditional park that’s been allowed to grow wild.


5. Campiglia Marittima

I have less information about arriving in Campiglia Marittima than the other towns because I visited by car with friends, but apparently there are frequent trains from Florence as well as buses. It might be in your best interest to travel by car, or at least to rent one while you’re in town, because one of the best draws is the seaside less than twenty minutes away. We visited two beaches in as many days, and though they weren’t as stunning as those you can find in the south, they’re definitely worth a visit. The first beach had extremely sparkly sand and a snack shack with alcohol, ice cream, and absolutely incredible Mediterranean Cous-Cous (PRO TIP: Get it with the tuna). Beach #2 lacked the fun sand, but more than made up for it with an incredible picnic area in the shade of the pine trees, where we drank beer and danced to a reggae band.

The town itself is ridiculously steep, but gorgeous. We spent most of our time down at the beach or up in our rented house, but we did wander down into town for dinner one night and breakfast our last morning. There are a few tiny piazzas and plenty of winding streets for wandering, not to mention an unparalleled view of the the countryside and the water. During August there’s Apriti Borgo, a medieval festival that goes on in the town center; while I arrived the day that it ended, I’ve been told that it’s a lot of fun to attend. Be aware that during this time it will cost money to enter the limits of the festival unless you’re staying in that area.

DSC_0507DSC_0534DSC_0543Happy wandering, my pets!

Pasta kisses,





Anniversary Post


Many of you might not know this, but today is an anniversary for me. One year ago, I was involved in a horseback riding accident that resulted in a concussion and four fractures along the spinous process of my L4 vertebra (that’s the part that looks like a stegosaurus ridge). I was over-confident and rash, and yes, after a year I’ll go ahead and say it—Black Mustang Ranch was negligent. They had no business pulling a notoriously “hot” horse off of one ride and immediately putting her on another one, especially not as warm as that day was, and I had no business getting on her. We were both to blame, and about twenty minutes into the ride Mae West took off for home and refused to stop. We galloped down the trail, and apparently I held on for a good long while until she took a sharp turn to the left and I kept going forward. I say “apparently” because I don’t remember anything but the vague sensation of going too fast and not being able to stop.

The reality of that day is that I could have died. A few feet to either side and I would have hit the trees at pretty much thirty-five miles an hour, if not faster, and I could have been killed or paralyzed. It was a traumatic experience that didn’t really hit me until the next spring, when the new session of SpiritHorse brought me a student who had been paralyzed almost from the neck down after a riding accident. I pretty much used up every ounce of luck that I had to dodge that result, and today I want to look back at the last year and talk about everything that I’ve lost and gained. It’s all been a little crazy, to say the least.

What I lost: My mobility for over three months. For the first five weeks or so I was in a lot of pain and I had to give up every good physical thing in my life, including horses and taekwondo. I also lost the healthy progress that I had made since the beginning of last summer.

What I gained: New perspective and experience. That awful accident taught me a few lessons that might save my life one day, and it gave me a fresh appreciation for the life that I do have.

What I lost: A good chunk of my fearless nature. I have never, ever confessed this to anyone, but I’m going to do it now: The idea of cantering scares me. Lindsay and I did a lot of trail riding at Marshall Creek this past spring, and we passed the skills test for the advanced ride pretty quickly. I didn’t tell her, but that first advanced ride we took terrified me until I realized that Thor, the Belgian draft that I was riding, was so huge that his trot was the same speed as the other horses’ canter. That was one of many reasons that he became my favorite at Marshall Creek.

What I gained: Real courage, in a way. I kept on riding, even though the signal for a canter made me anxious every time. The day that a wrangler asked if we wanted to canter down a particularly winding path rather than a straightaway, I asked for tips instead of saying no out of fear. And you know what? I had a blast. That was one of my favorite rides. And a few weeks later when it was just me and Thor by the lakeside, I pushed him up into a canter and let him take me flying. It was like charging into battle. I bullied my way past the fear and chose to find joy instead.

What I lost: My job. In January I was let go from Banfield for signing my mom’s new puppy up on one of my free Wellness Plans. On the way out, I couldn’t stop smiling. And let’s be honest; with my manager about to transfer to a different hospital, me and my attitude wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway.

What I gained: The best job that I have ever had. SpiritHorse hired me about a month later, and I was finally able to devote full-time hours to the place that I loved so much.

What I lost: My entire comfortable world. I had family, friends, horses, my favorite coffee shop, bro dates on Thursdays, my cat, and a good life in a good city. Most of these aspects have simply been misplaced; only one is gone for good.

What I gained: A broader world. I have more friends, a gorgeous new city, my favorite restaurant, the occasional performance onstage, pub quiz on Mondays, trips around Italy and Croatia, and the singular experience of laying topless in a hamami in Istanbul because no one else gave a sh*t.

What I lost: My dad. This is the only time that I will ever discuss him on a virtual medium. He died on February 2nd, and it was our decision. He was in pain, with massive organ failure and the slim chance of a few more weeks or even a month hooked up to machines at all times, so Mom and I said enough. We said it, the both of us together; we made the decision to let him go. Afterward, I remember staring at a purple square on the privacy curtain and thinking, If I can just stare at that square, just for a little bit longer, I’ll make it. It’ll be okay. Because this wasn’t the kind of grief that quietly leaks out; it was the kind that howls and screams and beats things until one or the other of them breaks. And I did it. I made it all the way home with only one or two tears, because my younger sister had just lost her dad and my mom had lost her soulmate. I’m going to take a shower, I said as we wandered from one room to the next in circles. I’m going to take a shower, and no matter what you hear, don’t come in.

There is nothing I could gain that would make the loss of my dad worth it. There’s no adventure that I could have, no friend I could make, and no man who could love me enough to balance out February 2nd, 2014. And you know what the real bitch of it is? The first thing he said to me three years ago when I came back from England was Don’t ever go so far away again.

I kept my promise.


We’re all either destined or doomed to become our parents, and you know what? I’m totally cool with that. My dad was a motorcycle-riding, softball-playing gentle giant, and my mom is a crisis-fixing, diamonds- and Coach-wearing badass. If this last year has shown me anything it’s that I have the blood of the Giant and the blood of the Dragon Lady in me, and the world had better watch out.

Pasta kisses,


The Saga of the Creepy Chianti


WARNING: This post is rated PG-13 for frank discussions of sexuality and brief language (probably).

This entry is going to be different from the rest. It’s the story of my recent interaction with a young Italian guy (nicknamed the Chianti because I’m nice, but not that nice) and his complete bafflement at hearing the word “No.” I want this to be a discussion of social norms and expectations, and a warning to American women traveling abroad. I do want to clarify one thing before I begin: nothing damaging happened to me. I know a lot of people who care about me read this blog, and I just want everyone to know that I’m totally fine.

The story began a few weeks ago when the Chianti came in to the gallery where I work. He was kinda cute in a wan hipster way, but I cared more about his obvious passion for the artist’s work than his looks. While we were discussing the art in depth he snuck a few glances down at my chest, but I didn’t really mind; in fact, it was a pleasant surprise when he invited me out for drinks after work. We ended up going to his apartment because a lot of the bars outside the tourist areas close early during the summer. I agreed to this because I felt comfortable with him, and because I had my daddy’s knife in my back pocket. I was right to take his interest in the paintings seriously, because he lived in a penthouse apartment with a view of the Duomo. I’ll admit, the Chianti brought his A-game to this whole courting thing: I’m talking red wine, playing guitar for me, discussing our travels, the works. So when he asked if he could kiss me, I said yes. It was sort of like kissing a hungry vacuum cleaner, but what can I say? It was nice to feel wanted.

I’ll spare you the details. We talked for a while, we kissed some more, and eventually he wanted to get more serious. I shut him down immediately, telling him in no uncertain terms that all of my clothes would be staying on. At first he respected that, but eventually he tried to convince me to change my mind. After a couple of hours I left, promising to call him the next night when I was off work, but when it rolled around I was exhausted and had no interest in walking half an hour to his place. I messaged him and explained how tired I was, and that my roommate would be gone until late if he wanted to come by. His counter-offer? He would come over if I would show him my tits.

Pictured: the only boobies of mine that he would ever be seeing.

I just laughed and laughed. At one point I stopped long enough to explain to him that that’s not how it works, and we spent the next hour discussing the things he wanted to do with me and why it wasn’t going to happen. This is really the issue that I wanted to broach when I decided to write this post: the Chianti was honestly baffled by my refusal. Didn’t I like him? Didn’t I want to feel pleasure? Why? Why not?

At first I answered him: Yes, I liked him, but I didn’t know him and it wouldn’t give me pleasure to have sex with a stranger. And as for “why”—it was absolutely none of his business. I didn’t know him and I certainly didn’t trust him, but I didn’t owe him those explanations. All he needed to know was that my answer was no, and it wouldn’t change before he left on his month-long trip to Spain. Then he said something that really stuck with me: Some American girls do it.

Ladies, this is not a condemnation. It’s not a judgement. What you do with your body is your business, and you don’t owe anybody anything. This is purely a warning that a lot of foreign men see American women as easy, and they might try to take advantage of that. My roommate during this experience (let’s call her Amanda) was also seeing a guy during her short stay, and she had a similar discussion with him every time they spent time together. Over the past few months I’ve been verbally harassed on more than one occassion, and last week I was physically harassed by an old man. We’re talking a man easily in his sixties who brings newspapers by the gallery. Two days ago, while I was on my way home from a club, a guy completely changed directions so he could walk with me, even going so far as to put his arm around my shoulders even though I was clearly not interested. It wasn’t until I removed the offending arm that he took the hint and bailed. After all of this, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for women who are traditionally good-looking.

Pictured: what most of us think when you catcall.

Amanda and I were lucky in that our respective boys were only persistent and not outright aggressive, but we should not have to fucking consider ourselves lucky for that. The Chianti’s problem was his arrogance; maybe it was a combination of cultural norms and his obvious wealth, but he was not used to hearing the word “no.” Our brief fling ended when he told me that if I wouldn’t do anything “serious” with him, then he couldn’t see me. Maybe he expected me to cave when given such a drastic ultimatum. I mean, my answer should have been obvious, right? What else could I possibly say to that other than an enthusiastic “YES”?

Ha. I told him to get lost.

I’ll admit that the physical contact was nice, as was the attention before it went sour, but I am my mother’s daughter and I don’t respond well to manipulation attempts. This philosophy applies no matter where you are in the world: no one has the right to guilt or coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do. With few exceptions, Americans talk about the treatment of women in America or they discuss extreme examples from the rest of the world like genital mutilation or the complete absence of women’s rights, but I think we’ve neglected that middle ground: how women are treated in other developed countries. In some ways it’s an improvement (paid maternity leave, for example), but the day-to-day treatment doesn’t seem to be that different. If anything, it’s worse.

Here’s a hint that bears repeating, boys: my body is mine to do with as I please. It’s not your toy, it’s not your property, it’s not your entertainment. You do not have the right to put your arm around me, or walk so close to me that I’m tripping over you, or discuss in detail what you’d like to do to me. You have no right to me, no matter what I wear or how I act. Until the word “Yes” leaves my mouth, you treat me like the goddamn Arc of the Covenant.

Pictured: what will happen to the next guy who touches me without permission.

If you stuck it out to this point, thank you. I know this post is unusual given the rest of my blog, but it’s an issue that I wanted to discuss in the hope that female travelers will feel better prepared if they fly solo.

Until next time,